The Suffers are a Houston, TX based band that knowns a thing or two about soul music. This group takes classic soul music and injects LIFE into their songs. We can clearly hear the classic rock, Latin, and Southern hip hop influences in their music. This 10-person band bring the stage to life with horns, guitars, percussion, keys, and of course the sultry vocals of Kam Franklin. We were lucky enough to catch up with drummer Nick Zamora at Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Festival Squad: First off, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to interview you guys. How are you enjoying Hangout Festival so far?
Nick Zamora: It’s been awesome. I kinda got wiped out last night, you know, just running around. We got in the water.
FS: Any highlights?
NZ: We had a really good time playing our set yesterday. We were on the Surf Stage, and it was cool. Everybody showed up early to come check it out. The food here is really good. The amazing seafood has been a highlight. The water is strong, you can’t just go relax in it. You kinda have to go fight the waves.
FS: Yeah I saw a few people trying to get onto that swing, but they kept getting pushed off.
NZ: They definitely could’ve hung the swing a little lower. It’s like…high. It was a jump for me, but oh I got on it. I’ll have to show you a picture. But, yeah, everything about this place is just great.
FS: When I first saw the lineup for Hangout, I thought it was unreal. Are there any performances that you guys are super stoked to see this weekend?
NZ: We were kinda bummed when we heard Frank Ocean was cancelling, but Phoenix is like one of my favorite bands. So, I was secretly happy about that whole thing. Phoenix was my big one I wanted to check out. Sigur Rós is gonna be good, I think. There’s just so many. This festival does a really good job of mixing different genres without getting to far into a specific one. The artists they pick within each genre are good crossover acts too. There’s a lot of good stuff. It’s hard to get off the beach, though, to go see a set. You know, once you’re in the water with a drink.
FS: A lot has happened in the last year for your band. You all went from working normal day jobs to now traveling around the country and playing at huge festivals like this one! Tell us a little bit about the transition.
NZ: The transition was terrifying because everybody was comfortable. We knew it was something that we had the choice of doing it or not. We knew what that meant for the band, but it’s been good. I think for many performers, the more rewarding aspect of it is getting to play it for people and getting a good response from it. It’s been nothing but that for us for a couple of years. Because of the size of the band, and we have one album out, we perform a lot. When I had a regular job, I would get up early in the morning at like 6:30 or 7 to go to work. I just assumed, very naively, that this would be a little bit more relaxed, but when you look through my iPhone alarms there’s like 2AM, 3Am, 3:30AM because there’s like an early flight or a 5AM load in for some random thing. So, there’s definitely some challenging parts, but overall it gets smoothed over by that hour or hour and a half on stage. Most importantly, we get along. There’s some head butting every once in awhile, naturally, but, for the 9 of us to be in close quarters and still enjoy being around each other, it’s a good thing.
FS: Have you guys had any strange moments while traveling around?
NZ: Hmm… I don’t know. I mean we’ve had some crazy stuff happen. Fortunately, it’s been just kind of normal, like mellow. I don’t know, let me think about that for a minute.
FS: Alright, we’ll come back to that one. The Suffers have often been referred to as “the next big thing to come out of Houston”. How does that recognition make you feel?
NZ: It feels good for a number of reasons. One, that statement isn’t made a whole lot. There are a lot of successful artists from Houston, but that time span over which they’ve become successful is so big. You know, there’s other places where people are like actively moving to make it, and just because of the odds there, there’s that higher success rate. We’re in really good company with other artists who are known to be from Houston. It’s cool having people say that, but we know that like we’re still trying to make it. It’s not necessarily some level of popularity. It’s just knowing that we can keep making our music, and afford to keep doing this for a long time. Just to be able to share some recognition with Houston is a big deal. We tell everybody, everywhere we go, where we’re from. If you go to one of our shows, regardless if you know about us or not, by the time you leave, you’re gonna know who we are and where we’re from.
FS: On that same note, do you have any memory in particular that was a defining moment of success or “we’ve made it” moment?
NZ: We kinda made it when the band started. I don’t think many people get into it to get some level of recognition. They get into it because they love music and wanna write some stuff. It’s really lucky when you find a group of people who you click with. There’s so many possibilities. When you sit down and write a song, it could be anything. It could sound like anything; and, to find a group of people, that when you work together, you manage you make something that you personally like, and that everybody is in to, is a success. I think that’s why this band has had more success than any of the other bands we’ve been in. We’ve all been doing this for a long time without really thinking we’d ever get to be playing on a beach at Hangout doing an interview. I stopped thinking a certain moment was going to be the greatest because the universe always surprises us over and over and over again.
FS: In 2016 you put out the LP which was self-titled. What was the process like making this album?
NZ: It took some time. We started recording some stuff a few years before that. We took our time. When the Letterman thing happened, we didn’t have anything out when we were booked for that. We put an EP out that had some songs from the album on it, and we had those songs recorded for at least a year at that point. We basically coasted through that whole first year touring, I think we did like 160 shows, on just that EP. So, by the time the album was finally released, we had been playing those songs for a long time. It’s funny because hearing it just feels like a time capsule for us because things have progressed so rapidly. We went to a few different studios and recorded. We took our time releasing it. Although it was a little frustrating to wait to release it, you know when you have something, you want to show everybody, it worked. We’re excited now, and we’re recording some more. There’s nothing like finally getting to release an album.
FS: Bob Boilen noted in his NPR review that your album accomplished something that very few soul albums do—the intensity of a live show captured into a studio recording! That is an insanely high praise from a tough critic and we are interested as to what that process was like?
NZ: Bob Boilen ever using our name in a sentence is exciting. We recorded the album live, for the most part, you know, just all of us in a big space. And we recorded them how we’ve been playing them. I think everybody benefitted from doing it that way. There is definitely that live aspect. We left some ugly little notes in here and there, which is excruciating because you have to relive those for the rest of your life. It was a good exercise in letting go and not beating a song to death. Definitely get a more fresh performance if you’re not worried about that little stuff. Bob Boilen wrote something about our album which was just excellent, and it was certainly positive which is a good feeling to have somebody like that like our stuff.
FS: What do you have planned for 2017? What are your next goals/big stages you want to play, etc.?
NZ: We have a bunch of different things happening for the summer. We’re playing at some cool festivals. Also, through the summer and the fall, we’re doing a tour of all of the Levitt amphitheaters. They’re kinda all spread out, like theres one in Denver and one in LA, but we’re kinda hitting all of those. We’re about to go home after this, and we’ll go in and start recording some more songs. We’re just gonna try to figure out how to do this album in the time that we have between being out at shows. We’ll do a tour at the end of the year, more of a proper tour.
FS: Alright, did we come up with a weird story?
NZ: Yes, okay. We were in D.C. two weeks ago, and Washington D.C. is one of those cities where we’ve been back to a couple of times and the reception we get there is just typically warm. You know, the shows we’ve played there feel like we’re playing at home. We were staying in this neighborhood because we were there for a few days. The one benefit of touring with a big band is when you stay somewhere for a long time, instead of hotels, we will get Airbnb. If you have to book an Airbnb for like 9 or 10 people, you typically get those nicer ones in big homes versus just a small room in someone’s house. The only downside to these things is finding a place to park the van with a big trailer. These guys down the street came out and were helping us figure out parking. They were like super neighborly and went to get a residential guest parking pass for us. They used their’s which was awesome. One of the guys was like a set designer. It was Cinco de Mayo weekend when we were staying there, so they invited us to their Cinco de Mayo party. So, we showed up to the house after our show that night, and we walked into this house that looked like a Cinco de Mayo decoration store just exploded. I mean like every room was just decked out. They had a mariachi band playing. I was talking to some of their friends while we were there, and they were saying that on Halloween they go and buy $700-800 worth of candy. Like the good stuff. They said that people come from like all over D.C. to their house specifically because they just have a truckload of candy on Halloween. So these guys just do everything big. It was really cool just going in there. They were super welcoming. It was a cool neighborly experience, but just walking into that was nuts. It would’ve been a great place for a music video shoot.